One of the highlights of this, my third year covering the GRAMMYS as the official Americana blogger, was the heartfelt Levon Helm tribute featuring Elton John, Zac Brown, T Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples & Mumford and Sons and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard.
Of all the events I am covering for the GRAMMYS, this is the one I most looked forward to. Great time at the Producers & Engineerâ€™s Wing 10th Anniversary Honoring T. Bone Burnett took place at the historic Village Recording Studio which since opening in the late 60â€™s has worked with The Allman Brothers, The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton,Elvis Costello, The Doors, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, George Harrison, Elton John, Tom Jones, B.B. King, John Lennon, Little Richard, Ringo Starr, and many others. Built by the Freemasons in the 1920s, the building was originally a Masonic temple, then in the early 60s the building was used by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
This was , for an entertainment industry event, a relaxed one. The focus of the guests wasnâ€™t on image or attitude, these were people focused on the sound. the board geeks that make the good sound great, the great sound timeless and the lame…well…there’s little hope even for these wizards. Making my way through the crowd I ran into Robbie Robertson (The Band), Ray LaMontagne (nominated for 3 GRAMMYS – Song Of The Year â€“ â€œBeg Steal Or Borrowâ€, Best Contemporary Folk Album â€“ God Willinâ€™ & The Creek Donâ€™t Rise and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical)
The event to celebrate Burnett was christened “Shaken Rattled & Rolled” and the slide shows around the event showed how extensive his career has been as a producer, engineer and a musician. After brief comments by Senior Executive Director Maureen Droney and Co-Chair James McKinney there was a film celebrating the Producers & Engineerâ€™s Wing of the GRAMMYS and their commitment to documenting and preserving historic and contemporary recorded media.
Then after a recording introduction by Elton John (â€œgreatest producer working today, run away with me!”) and Leon Russell (“Iâ€™m not sure what this award is for be this man deserves it!”) Burnett hit the stage to loving applause. The gist of his speech was that the sound heâ€™s famous for championing, warm analog, has a a place in current recording as well as a future. AndÂ that “the recording industry made a mistake when they started making music for people that don’t like music. ” Burnett then introduced his latest proteges, The Secret Sisters and they serenaded the happy crowd late into the night. Thanks to my companion GRAMMYs Country Music blogger Meesa from 365 Days of Country Music.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) announced the nominees for the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards (to be held February 13th, 2011.) Here listed are the nominees in the Americana, Roots categories as well as similar artists in other categories (for a full list of nominees ho the Grammy.com)Â Any surprises? Who’s missing?
BEST AMERICANA ALBUM
Rosanne Cash – The List
Los Lobos – Tin Can Trust
Willie Nelson – Country Music
Robert Plant – Band of Joy
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
BEST BLUEGRASS ALBUM
Sam Bush – Circles Around Me
Patty Loveless – Mountain Soul II
The Del McCoury Band – Family Circle
Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band – Legacy
The Steeldrivers – Reckless
BEST TRADITIONAL FOLK ALBUM
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig
Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy – Onward and Upward
The John Hartford Stringband – Memories of John
Maria Muldaur – Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy
Ricky Skaggs – Ricky Skaggs Solo: Songs My Dad Loved
BEST CONTEMPORARY FOLK ALBUM
Jackson Browne & David Lindley – Love Is Strange – En Vivo Con Tino
Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Age of Miracles
Guy Clark – Somedays the Song Writes You
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise
Richard Thompson – Dream Attic
BEST COUNTRY INSTRUMENTAL PERFORMANCE
Cherryholmes – “Tattoo of a Smudge”
The Infamous Stringdusters – “Magic #9”
Punch Brothers – “New Chance Blues”
Darrell Scott – “Willow Creek”
Marty Stuart – “Hummingbyrd”
Other Americana/roots/indie/alt/whatever artists nominated in assorted other categories:
- Dailey & Vincent – “Elizabeth” (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals)
- Dierks Bentley – Up on the Ridge (Best Country Album)
- Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert & Jamey Johnson – “Bad Angel” (Best Country Collaboration with Vocals)
- Dierks Bentley, Del McCoury & the Punch Brothers – “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (Best Country Collaboration with Vocals)
- Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett – “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart (Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media)
- Johnny Cash – “Ain’t No Grave”/ The Johnny Cash Project (Best Short Form Music Video)
- Crazy Heart (Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media)
- Steve Earle – “I See You” from Treme (Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media)
- Patty Griffin – Downtown Church (Best Traditional Gospel Album)
- Buddy Holly – Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More (Best Historical Album)
- Elton John & Leon Russell – “If It Wasn’t for Bad” (Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals)
- Jamey Johnson – “Macon” (Best Male Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Album for The Guitar Song)
- Miranda Lambert – “The House That Built Me” (Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, Best Country Album for Revolution)
- Ray LaMontagne – “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” (Song of the Year)
- Los Lobos – “Do the Murray” (Best Rock Instrumental Performance)
- Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man” (Best Rock Song, Best New Artist)
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Mojo (Best Rock Album)*The Steeldrivers – “Where Rainbows Never Die” (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals)
- Robert Plant – “Silver Rider” (Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance)
- Pete Seeger with the Rivertown Kids and Friends – Tomorrow’s Children (Best Musical Album for Children)
- Ricky Skaggs – Mosaic (Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album)
- George Strait – “The Breath You Take” (Best Country Song)
- Marty Stuart & Connie Smith – “I Run to You” (Best Country Collaboration with Vocals)
- Treme (Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media)
- Hank Williams – The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings…Plus! (Best Historical Album)
- Lucinda Williams & Elvis Costello – “Kiss Like Your Kiss” from True Blood (Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media)
- Neil Young – “Angry World” (Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album for Le Noise)
- In a rare alignment of planets the Country Music Awards are actually in agreement. the pride of Texas, Miranda Lambert has been nominated for a record-breaking nine Country Music Association Awards, the most for any female country music artist in the history of the awards program. This almost makes up for the years that the CMA has been celebrating glitter and hairspray bull dung. I predict that Miranda will no longer be known as the blond country music singer that’s not Taylor or Carrie. Let’s hope the CMA carries through with this stumble into excellence and give her 9 wins.
- In case you missed it, all last week NPR’s Fresh Air dug through their extensive interview archives for their excellent Country Music Week special. Terri Gross’ interviews and spotlights legends like Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Charlie Louvin, John Doe and more. Check it out.
- On of my most anticipated releases next month is The Union, the T-Bone Burnett produced collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell. The album also features Hohn’s long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin who had a hand in writingÂ songs and Elton and Russell playing piano simultaneously. You can listen to two of the 14 songs from the album, If It Wasnâ€™t for the Bad (the discâ€™s first single which is on sale digitally now) and I Should Have Sent Roses (don’t let the cheesy opening music in the videos for the logo fool you.) Russell and John are scheduled to perform together on November 3, at the Hollywood Palladium. The Union will be released on October 19.
- It has been a been a long time coming but it looks like The Last Rights of Ransom Pride,Â the Ray Wylie Hubbard co-written dark Western, starring Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, is finally having some premier showings. The Los Angeles Premiere will be at 12am on Friday, September 10 and Saturday, September 11 with upcoming releases in Dallas, TX, Ft. Worth, TX, Denton, TX and Phoenix, AZ. Check the film’s web site to leearn more, buy tickets and bring the film to your town.
I know I haven’t been posting much lately. Besides the uptick in myÂ frequency of the Twang Nation twitter feed and preparing for a move (down the street) but I wanted to do a quick list for Fathers Day. Being a dad it’s close to my heart and there are some great songs out there. Please I saw Darrell ScottÂ is giving away a free download of his song, A Father’s Song for the occasion so It moved me to get something done. Here’s some of my favorites, got one of your own? Post it below. Thanks for reading.
The Drive By Truckers : Oufit – Jason Isbell shows Southern soul telling a tale of aÂ man giving sage advice to his son.
Drive-By Truckers: Daddy Needs A Drink – Yeah, I’m showing my DBT bias here, but great songs are where you find them. Patterson Hood embodys a man worn out by life and seeking liquid refuge.
Dixie Chicks: Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) – Sure Natalie Maines sings this beautiful song, written by Austin legend Radney Foster, but the sentiment of parental love is transcendent. Emmylou Harris ‘ vocals near the end seal the deal.
Elton John: My Father’s Gun – From the excellent Americana classic Tumbleweed Connection. A boy inherits his father’s firearm as well as his hatred of the Yanks.
Lee Canner: Distant Father – One of my twitter followers sent me this as an anti-Father’s Day song from the Victor Mourning’s Stephen Lee Canner. Chilling and lovely Gothic Americana.
Michael Dean Damron: Father’s Day – Love this guy and this song from his latest.
A Boy Names Sue – Johnny Cash sings Shel Silverstein’s wry tale about a father’s peculiar form of character development.
There appears to be a resurgence of sorts of the modern troubadour. the male singer/songwriter armed with only an acoustic guitar and the stories he weaves always teetering on the precipice betweenÂ emotional authenticity and cloying sentimentality. The balance becomes even more precarious when you have pop leanings as the term “pop” has been severed from it’s root “popular” into something fleeting and vapid.
A well-crafted song defies genre. Whether it’s Sinatra’s I did It My Way or Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, there’s a craftsmanship that transcends and a balanced symmetry of sound and word. These types of songs also used to fall under the moniker of pop because they were “popular” not because they were reminiscent of sugary confection.
New Jersey based Joe Whyte’s new (FREE!) release, When The Day Breaks, is a slice of pop-Americana that straddles territory settled in the 70’s by pioneers like Gordon Lightfoot and Stephen Stills and currently being reshaped by the likes of theÂ Avett Brothers, Darrell Scott and Brice Robinson.
Rambling is the asphalt-hearted theme that runs through this release. The jangly channeling of Gram Parsons in the opener Please Believe Me portrays a sunny tempo belying the narrators compulsion to hit theÂ road and not allow anyone to fence him. It’s a Shame with its Dobro yawn suppliesÂ a precisely suited accompaniment to reflect the dark dysfunction of a man destined to leave a caring woman knowing full well its the wrong thing to do,
This City is Alive has the narrator sit still in the City that Never Sleeps (sounding like a lost track from Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection) yet fights the urge to escape before it steals the person he’s finally discovered he is. Off to War is a different kind of leaving. A soldier being deployed wants more then anything to be home with his family and his solemn ache is the strongest testament against an unjust war.
Blending a pop songwriters instinct for precision and hook with the warmth and authenticity in storytelling that are the trademarks of folk and country Whyte rescues the much maligned genre and gives it beauty and depth.
Elton John might return to his Tumbleweed Connection era as he records with Leon Russell. With T. Bone Burnnett heading production John and Russell have been laying down “more than a dozen songs” according to a post on Johnâ€™s longtime collaborator Bernie Taupinâ€™s website. “It’s varied in scope and drenched in a rich tapestry of atmospherics, Don’t expect to hear the old EJ/BT sound; this is organic recording unlike anything you’ve heard from our duo before.” Taupin describes the music as covering everything “from Stones-like rockers, country-tinged ballads, gospel and even a Sinatra-like weepy.â€
Some of the guiest performers are reported to be Booker T Jones, guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jim Keltner and a promising Canadian performer named Neil Young.
Russell is still recovering from brain surgery in January but apparently is playing a major part in the production. John is working his recording schedule around his tour with Billy Joel and several solo dates that will keep him on the road through September.
Before he became the modern equivalent of Liberace and creator of Disney Soundtracks (1994’s The Lion King with Tim Rice) Sir Elton John (Reginald Dwight to his mum) was the reigning king of 70’s adult pop. Odds were if you tuned into an FM rock or pop stationÂ (often they were the same station as genre segmentation was less rigid back then) within 5 minutes you’d hear one of his omnipresent truckload of singles.
Riding a wave of success his self-titled album (Elton John) had brought him Elton, and his writing partner and primary lyricist Bernie Taupin, released Tumbleweed Connection in October 1970. Though neither Elton or Taupin had ever been to America many listeners believed that the album reflected thier travels there but was in reality a convincing work of Taupin‘s fascination with the American old west. Taupin was inspired by hearing The Band’s Music from Big Pink, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, and The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, as well as numerous country songs such as Marty Robbins’ classicÂ El Paso (the song Taupin claims made him want to write songs) to create a somewhat thematically unified take on his own idea of the mythical American west. The sepia tinted album cover says it all. A picture of John on the front, and Taupin on the back, kicking back on an old western town’s boardwalk.
Tumbleweed Connection was the first time a road band had been used in the studio, making it more the Elton John band rather than just Elton on his own, and the bigger sound comes to life immediately on the blues-rock opener Ballad of a well-known Gun, the story of a gunslinger reaching the end of the road (though I prefer the more country-rock version found on disc 2 of the Legacy edition of TC) and My Father’s Gun a moody study on a Southern son’s legacy of avenging his father’s Civil War death that builds to a dramatic finale’. Both songs feature the soaring backing vocals of Madeline Bell, Tony Burrows and blue-eyed soul diva Dusty Springfield.
Country Comfort is a bustling tune about John and Taupin’s love for the countryside complete with pedal steel, harmonica and fiddle. John re-released the song in 2001 as part of the ‘Earl Scruggs and Friends’ album released by Earl Scruggs. Earl Scruggs played banjo on the song. The song was also covered by Rod Stewart and Juice Newton.
Son of Your Father is a blues-country rouser featuring a rare appearance by UK folk duo Sue and Sunny. Where to now St. Peter? is a pleasant if somewhat goofily-psychedelic tune that seems oddly out of place on this except the narrative seems to be about a man lost in the world and struggling for direction, so I guess it sort of fits. Love Song is the only non-John/Taupin penned tune on the album. Leslie Duncan wrote and performs acoustic guitar and background vocals on this melancholy beauty.
Amoreena might be my favorite cut on this album brimming with great cuts. Taken from the name of John’s god-daughter, this great song about a young man yearning for his distant loved one is notable not only for John’s great piano riffs but also because he is accompanied for the first time by bass player Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, who would form the core of his rhythm section until their departure in 1975.
The album concludes with the Gospel-inspired slow-burner (pun intended) Burn Down the Mission. This simple, but vague, story of a poor and oppressed community that sees the narrator rising up to take action to deal out some personal justice. This is the most orchestrated and cinematic (thanks to a large measure to Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements) of the songs contained here and John plays piano and sings with passion and fervor befitting its expanse.
For an album that spawned no singles Tumbleweed Connection stands as a testament to the musical greatness of John and Taupin, and is a heartfelt commendation of the mythical American west.Â Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose reportedly once said he would love to own the publishing rights to Tumbleweed Connection as a work of art. I’d say this is probably the first time that Axl and my tastes are in sync.
Panning for Gold is a random celebration of classic alt.country/roots/Americana releases of the past.
Elton John – Burn Down the Mission